A Game Of Scientific Sabotage

For those who haven’t heard about it, Lab Wars is a “science themed card game where you build up your lab and sabotage your competitors for scientific glory”.

Designed by scientists Caezar All-Jassar and Kuly Heer, the game raised $65000 in crowd funding back in July 2016.

A while ago I asked Caezar and Kuly some questions about Lab Wars and how they managed to take on such a cool (yet massive!) project while busy with their scientific careers.

Maria: In Lab Wars you are able to create and develop your own lab and progress through your academic career using several different tactics. From what I gather, some of these involve sabotage, theft, espionage and even poisoning… You both look like lovely people and I am assuming you would never recommend any of these as career progression strategies! That being said, if you could offer one piece of advice to a young scientist trying to make it in academia, what would that be?

Caezar + Kuly: Well, for a start, if you’re going to end up committing scientific fraud and sabotage, don’t bother haha. I have to admit, academia is tough. Long work hours, low pay and high pressure to publish makes it a tough business. Throw in student debt and it really makes you question whether it is right for you. I would say, you need to be totally dedicated. If you haven’t got the dedication or mental will power to get through tough times you will find it difficult to carry on during the lows of scientific research, of which there are many. However, there is nothing more thrilling than the eureka moment, however big or small that is. You can push yourself through this, just tell yourself: you can do it!

M: Caezar, you’re a post-doctoral fellow, and Kuly, you are doing a second doctorate, this time in clinical psychology… How did you balance your roles as researchers and professionals with developing a project like Lab Wars, promoting it and putting together a massively successful Kickstarter campaign?

C+K: Haha, we found it with great difficulty! Obviously, our day time jobs take precedence simply as we have careers to think about ( and have to think about paying the bills!). However, we made sure that Lab Wars was of a high standard by using the vast majority of our spare time working on it! We found being highly organised really helpful. The way we did this was that we used a Gantt chart to inform us on what needed to be done each week per month, and who to contact with regards to logistical or PR reasons. With the gameplay mechanics you cannot set a timetable, since playtesting is often a hit and miss process that is only somewhat iterative. To that end, we spent a huge amount of time doing playtests with a wide variety of different people with different board game experiences ranging from non board game players all the way to professional designers.

M: Lab Wars has a very wide appeal — to scientists and non-scientists alike. Do you see it as a public engagement tool, a tool to inspire others to become scientists?

C+K: That was one of our main aims right from the start. We intentionally wanted to create a debate about how scientists view themselves with this difficult topic. It has certainly done that with many people acknowledging this problem exists and that at the end of the day, scientists are human too. However, at the other end of the scale we wanted to encourage people (young adults in particular) and show them that science can be a fun thing. If we made it solely about experiments it wouldn’t make science interesting. However, throw in some sabotage and at that point we can engage and enthuse these players to say, “hey look, science IS cool, and it is REALLY important to society”. We were really pleased to hear many teachers and parents were going to play this with their kids. Who knows, a Lab Wars player might become the next Franklin!

M: Finally, describe your ideal game night featuring Lab Wars. (E.g What other game(s) would be the perfect companions? Who would you invite? What snacks would you have on offer?)

C + K: We would play some of our favourites! Games we are loving right now are Viticulture (also Kickstarted), Istanbul and Zombicide. We would invite all our best friends over! Snacks? We’d probably have loads of pizza!!

Thank you very much to Caezar and Kuly for kindly answering all these questions!

An earlier version of this article was published on literallyviral.com.